The three most important things you can do for your lawn following a drought are: 1) Spiking the soil to let water sink down to the roots; 2) Feed your lawn to give the plants an energy boost; 3) raise the height of your mower blades. You may also need to carry out extra renovations in the autumn. More details in this article from the UK’s largest turfgrass producer.
Most gardeners in the UK will have noticed that their lawns look stressed during long periods without rainfall. Brown lawns in summer are perfectly normal and nothing to worry about. It’s how grass plants naturally behave when they are short of water. However, as gardeners, it’s not what we’re looking for. And so, the quicker your lawn returns to normal, the better.
Here’s how to help your lawn recover from drought quicker
Spike the surface of the lawn
Have you ever noticed that when the soil is really dry, water will just run off the surface instead of soaking into the soil? Some soil types are more prone to this than others. And it won’t help if your lawn also has a thick thatch layer. (Thatch is the layer between grass and soil that is made up of dead leaves and debris that haven’t yet rotted down).
Piecing holes through the thatch layer and into the top few centimetres of soil will make it easier for water to sink deep into the soil to where your lawn’s roots are waiting for a long cool drink.
When the grass is stressed a solid tine aerator – or a spiker – is the best tool to use. Hollow tine aerators are too harsh for dry soils. You can buy a small spiker quite cost effectively online or from a good DIY store.
If you have a large lawn, I’d recommend hiring a mechanical spiker or calling in a lawn care professional. Using a garden fork to pierce the lawn is not ideal. The tines are not the right shape to make holes without compacting the soil.
Feed your lawn for an instant post-drought energy boost
When you are recovering from the flu or perhaps from surgery, you need the very best nutrition. Your body needs to repair itself, fight off disease and grow strong again. When your lawn is recovering from drought, it needs good food for those very same reasons.
The soil beneath your lawn probably does contain the building blocks for some plant nutrients. It relies strongly on microscopic organisms to convert those building blocks into a sort of soup that the plants can take in and use. However, those micro-organisms are just as susceptible to drought as your grass plants. You cannot be 100% sure that after a drought they will be performing at their peak. So, your job, as a lawn owner, is to provide the nutrients your lawn needs to help it recover from drought quicker.
Choose a feed that contains Nitrogen for growth, Phosphorus for root strength and Potassium to help fight disease. (stressed grass is more prone to disease)
Turfonline recommends Vivid Green Spring Summer Feed which has been specially formulated for ornamental and family lawns.
Raise the height of your mower blades
Eagle-eyed lawn lovers will have noticed that the grass on road verges and in fields stays greener for longer and seems to recover from drought quicker. That’s partly because the grass itself is longer.
Long grass shades the soil from the sun and helps prevent water from evaporating. Plus the grass blades act as the plants’ powerhouse. Leaves harvest sunlight and convert it into the energy the plant can use to grow. The greater the surface area of the leaf, the more energy it can produce. It seems too that grass with longer leaves also has long roots that can reach more water.
So when we mow the lawn really short, we are not helping the grass plants to recover from the drought. Raising the cutting bar on your mower will not make your lawn look unkempt. It will help it green up quicker.
Plan autumn lawncare jobs that will help your lawn next summer
Right now (August 2018) I’m in East Anglia. My own lawn is looking quite crispy after the drought. And although I can see lots of green shoots peeping through, there’s an awful lot of dead stuff on the soil surface. All of those dead leaves will make the thatch layer thicker. If we get another drought next year it will be harder to re-wet the soil. Plus the microscopic fungi that cause lawn diseases live in the thatch layer.
It’s too early in the year to think about scarifying the lawn to get rid of thatch. And anyway, the plants need to recover from drought before I do any major renovations. But as every other lawn lover in my area will be planning on scarifying, I’m going to book the machine hire well in advance.
Prepare to overseed bare patches
Turf growers use a lot of grass seed which means that we are quite sensitive to changes in the marketplace. Rumour has it that the dry weather throughout Europe has meant that crops have yielded less grass seed than usual. That could mean that grass seed prices will rise.
It’s almost certain that parts of your lawn will need overseeding following the drought. Two pieces for advice for you are:
- Choose a suitable seed that will blend in well with your existing lawn
- Order early while stocks are plentiful and prices are low
Autumn Topdressing will improve soil moisture management
Improving the water retaining properties of your lawn soil will help fight the effects of a drought next summer.
Topdressing is traditionally the way to introduce more organic material to the soil beneath your lawn.
Use a hollow tine aerator to remove small cores of soil from your lawn. Then brush good quality topsoil into the holes.
Turfonline recommends using enriched soil. The 25Kg bags are easy to store and handle.